On My Way to India, November 2002

Nov 11 – Milan Linate airport to Heathrow

Paranoid traveller that I am, I ordered a taxi for 6 am. This got me to Linate, Milan’s city airport, at 6:15 – for an 8 am flight. Check-in was soon accomplished, and I planned to relax and have breakfast in the British Airways business lounge (still exploiting the frequent flier mileage accumulated during those frantic last months with Roxio).

But the lounge is on the other side of security, and, as I discovered, the line to get through security on a Monday morning is appallingly long. So I had coffee at the airport bar, bought a book by Andrea Camilleri (“Il Corso delle Cose,” which I subsequently realized I’d already read; I enjoyed it again anyway). I killed time here and there, and finally, reluctantly, joined the very long queue at 6:58 – I had to walk to the other end of the airport to actually find the end of the line. I read as I shuffled along in line, finally passing security at 7:23. From there, straight onto my flight, which was already boarding.

The flight was relatively empty, so I had the row to myself. I sat on the aisle, and put my backpack under the middle seat. Just before takeoff, a flight attendant told me that my luggage had to be stowed underneath the seat in front of me during takeoff and landing, “due to CAA regulations.”

“I’m not trying to make trouble,” I said carefully, “But what difference does it make whether it’s under this seat or that seat?”

“It’s a regulation,” she repeated.

“What does the CAA care?” I asked (whoever they are).

“If they made a rule, they obviously care,” she snapped.

“It’s a stupid rule,” I said, and she did seem to agree with me.

Why is it that people insist on applying rules even when we all know they’re stupid?

 

Heathrow to Delhi

Getting several hundred people onto a plane efficiently and safely is no easy job, especially when most of them have excessive hand luggage, and some are elderly and/or inexperienced and/or speak no English.

The flight attendant in our section was amazing. She crisply but politely hurried everybody into their seats. She stood up on seats to rearrange luggage in the overhead lockers so that more could fit. She then lifted the luggage, some of it very heavy, and slotted it in there herself – all without turning a hair or laddering her stockings. She prodded, cajoled, and pleaded until almost everyone was seated, except for a middle-aged Sikh who had apparently checked in late, and therefore had not been assigned a seat next to his wife. In his determination to sit with her, he rudely ordered the man whose assigned seat that was to move. The flight attendant did not take kindly to this, and told him off sharply. A little later the Sikh gentleman did manage to switch seats with somebody, apparently by asking nicely.

The flight was uneventful, and I couldn’t concentrate on any of the 12 channels of movies. As often happens, conversation with my neighbors only began in the last hour or two. (Perhaps we’re all afraid to find each other boring, and then be stuck being polite through a long trip.) When we did get to talking, I found both of them interesting. One was a young woman of Indian descent, born and raised in London. She told me they call themselves BBCDs: British-Born Confused Deshis (deshi is a Hindi word meaning native, as opposed to videshi, foreigner).

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